Playoff officials, NCAA will pay for athletes' families to travel

Lifestyle and Budget Associated Press

The College Football Playoff will help pay for the parents and guardians of Ohio State and Oregon football players to travel to the national championship game in North Texas on Monday.

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The NCAA granted a waiver Tuesday that allows the College Football Playoff to provide a reimbursement of up to $1,250 per parent or guardian that will cover hotel accommodations, travel and meals.

"This will really help because parents really want to go out and see their kids play," said Ohio State safety Von Bell, who is from Rossville, Georgia. "They make a lot of sacrifices and there's a lot of money spent. Traveling from the South, because they come up here for every game, is a lot. The gas and everything. It's really a blessing to hear that."

Ohio State played last week at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in the first College Football Playoff semifinals. Oregon played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The NCAA also announced it will provide a similar reimbursement to the families of athletes who compete in the men's and women's basketball Final Fours as part of a pilot program.

The NCAA will pay up to $3,000 total in travel, hotel and meal expenses for family members of student-athletes who compete in the Final Four. The NCAA will pay up to $4,000 for each of the student-athletes who compete in championship games.

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The men's Final Four will be held in Indianapolis this year. The women's Final Four will be held in Tampa, Florida.

At a time when the leaders of college athletics are trying to steer more of the millions in growing revenues generated by big-time sports toward the athletes themselves, this is another example of the NCAA acknowledging that more can be done.

"We applaud the College Football Playoff and the NCAA for recognizing the importance of the families of student-athletes and will continue to support legislation that benefits student-athlete welfare and opportunities for parents to be a part of these special moments with their children," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement.

The issue gained attention this year when the implementation of the College Football Playoff caused parents of athletes who make it to the national championship to consider two big postseason trips. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was among the first and most notable coaches to talk about the issue and call for travel reimbursements for family members.

"That kind of made my day," Meyer said about hearing the NCAA's decision.

"I think it's a good first step," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "The average room cost is about $300. Three nights stay, $900. If you take an $800 flight, which is maybe New York to Dallas, times the number of players. So that's maybe $250,000 per school, so $500,000 for the two schools. I think they can find that money out of the College Football Playoff funds. I think that's a good start."

ESPN is paying $470 million per season over 12 years for the television rights to the college football playoff. That money is distributed among the conferences and does not go through the NCAA.

The CFP capped its reimbursement at $500 less than the NCAA allows. Executive director Bill Hancock said the College Football Playoff came up with its figure, with the help of Oregon, before the NCAA made its final decision.

"Now that we know the NCAA limit, I'm sure the management committee and board of managers will look at that issue as we all continue to work through the details," Hancock said in a statement.

CBS has a 14-year deal that pays about $11 billion total to the NCAA for the rights to the men's basketball tournament.

Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, said he's been looking at ways help parents and guardians of college athletes cover travel costs to the basketball championship since he joined the organization in 2012.

Lewis said a discussion with Smith prompted a review of the NCAA bylaws to try to find a way to help pay for family members to travel to playoff games.

"Does it help that people were saying, 'Hey quit taking so long. We want to do it?' Yeah, sure," Lewis said. "No question that the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

What they found in the rules was as long as the bill was being footed by the organizing body of the event and not schools, a waiver could be granted allowing for family members' travel expenses to be reimbursed.

Lewis said Smith and Mullens have said they will explore NCAA legislation that could expand on the pilot program and allow the schools to be involved.

"In the future, maybe we'll be able to manage this before time and we'll just pick a team hotel, they will hopefully have a travel agency they work with, so you work to get your flights through the travel agency, you stay at this hotel, everything's covered, so there's no money exchanged," Smith said.

Under NCAA guidelines, schools were permitted to use a student assistance fund for a one-time payment of $800 to help fund families' postseason travel. But that didn't come close to covering all of the costs.

"For a glacially slow organization, we moved pretty quick and Gene (Smith) was a big part it," Lewis said.

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ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CBS is part of CBS Corp.

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.